|That lighter red stripe at the edge of the cliff on the left side of the photo? That's the road. If you think it looks like you could easily drive right off the edge, you'd be right.|
I guess we're gonna do this.
We passed a small cardboard box propped on the cliff edge side of the road, which we assumed someone lost off their rig as they bumped their way down. It was fortunate for us we were too busy concentrating on the terrain to read what was written on it:
"Solo vehicle accident on May 2, 2016. Survivor airlifted to hospital."
Three weeks ago.
Roads don't usually intimidate me, but this was no ordinary road. At this point in the trip the White Rim had already pushed the limits of our truck: steep switchbacks with turns so tight we had to shimmy around them; rolling sheets of slick rock with crevices that had us analyzing our angle of approach and departure; narrow cliffside sections with blind corners that would make a diehard atheist pray to just about anyone if it would guarantee no oncoming traffic. Now the road was throwing us a new twist: overhangs that threatened to rip the camper off the truck.
Whose idea was this anyway?
|Starting the trip; the base of the Shafer Switchbacks, Islands in the Sky district.|
I wouldn't be writing this if we hadn't made it down those switchbacks in one piece and yeah, I'm probably being dramatic. But when we got to the bottom and looked up to see that wrecked truck from three weeks ago still wedged between two giant boulders, yellow flags left by the accident investigation marking the trail of debris, it kind of sobered us up.
|From the bottom of the switchbacks we looked up...|
|...and saw this.|
Someday had finally arrived.
|Enjoying the view, Colorado River below. Canyonlands National Park|
100 miles of winding multi-hued canyons stretch out to the horizon. Each thick layer of rock the river had exposed had a distinct color, and (as you've probably guessed) the layer the majority of the White Rim road travels has a white tinge (check out this cool pamphlet about the geology of Canyonlands for a more complete understanding of the layers). The scenery was always spectacular and would change from a soft hazy red in the morning, to harsh shadows and bright edges at noon, to glowing red at sunset.
|Ryan and LeeWhay's Lexus/Adventure Trailer combo skirts the edge of the canyon.|
|Our camp spot at Gooseberry, White Rim Road|
|Lined up at the cliffs edge, Washer Woman (the rock formation above) in the distance.|
Although the White Rim is not for the faint of heart or those who are fond of their shiny paint and low profile tires, it is possible to traverse it in a stock SUV (not that I'd recommend it). About halfway through we met a couple of guys who were doing just that in a Nissan Pathfinder. They said they scraped a little here and there, bottomed out pretty hard once or twice and it took them an hour to get up one of the steepest hills on the route. As we drove away, we were sure they'd be needing a tow out of there but a couple days later we saw them, alive and victorious.
It should be noted, however, it was a rental.
|Switchbacks are a way of life on the White Rim|
If you choose to go, make sure you have more than one night reserved in the campgrounds. The road is tough, and the smartest and safest way to enjoy it is slowly. Our campsite was only 30 miles in, which made for a long drive out the next day. It was the general consensus that one more night at the 60 mile mark would have made the perfect trip. From start to finish it's 100 miles long, and unless you drive over a cliff, none of that will be at freeway speeds. We averaged about ten miles per hour, not counting the side trips and photo stops. There were sections that could only be traveled at a crawl; it's just not safe to go very fast up those switchbacks, not knowing what might be coming around the corner. Our group brought two way radios so the lead vehicle could always radio back if they encountered someone on the road. It was helpful to have that extra warning, as there aren't many places to pull over in some sections. The road is also popular with mountain bikers, so keep an eye out for them. We saw more bikes than vehicles during our trip; we tried to be considerate and wait for them to pass before kicking up more dust.
https://canypermits.nps.gov/index.cfm or at the Visitor's Center. Please note, these fees are in addition to the park entrance fee.
|Coming up the Hogback switchbacks|
|The view from the top of the plateau, La Sal Mountains in the distance|
|The White Rim crew: Rasa, Craig, Leewhay, Ryan, Mark and Ron. |
Explorers and all-round fine human beings make a great trip even better.